Nifty Coasters in Green and Orange: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

When I was a little kiddie and went to Sunday school we glued pasta to empty tomato-sauce cans and spray-painted them gold (or was it silver?). Maybe they were supposed to be chalices or something. I forget the religious import. True, the world’s richest artist is using better materials — dead butterflies no less — and has a squadron of assistants to execute his product for him, but I fear oversized coasters are conceptually on par with macaroni goblets.

They are supposed to be mandalas, which I guess anything circular could be, so there’s that hint that there must be something deep and spiritual to fathom about them. This one’s called “Deity”?

But, uh, people often put concentric circles on tiles and coasters without thinking it’s a grand meditation on death and transcendence.

No, really, look at these Teivio Coasters for Drinks, available at Sears:

And these BOHORIA® Premium Design Coasters (Set of 6) aren’t bad either.

And that’s all I’m getting from Hirst’s new show. It’s hardly even design, because the concentric rings don’t allow anything else, and the size of the butterflies determines thickness. We are left with choice of color, and deciding which row to make which thickness, though they seem to mostly go from smallest to biggest. But, that level of aesthetic decision has to be made for any of thousands of mandala coasters out there in the world.

And how about these sombreros?

The thing we all learned about conceptual art is that the crystalline brilliance of the idea is paramount. True, just because Hirst is thought of as a conceptual artist doesn’t mean anything and everything he does is conceptual art, but that’s the only way to elevate his mandala coasters into high art.

So, what’s the grand idea? Hirst likes to say his work is about death, but it’s more about inflicting it on insects, fish, and small animals than grappling with the human condition so far. The butterflies are dead, but that just tells us they are expendable and merely pretty, pigmented things. It doesn’t make me think about my mortality, or Damien’s.

Making it bigger, or out of butterflies, doesn’t make it NOT craft.

Everyone knows Hirst outsources the manufacture of his art, but why not go a step further and hire people to come up with art ideas for him (rather than borrowing and stealing them)?

If you don’t have to make your own art, who says you have to come up with it either? This isn’t his first show with butterflies, not butterflies mounted on circular panels. Clearly, he’s shooting blanks.

The non-existent spiritual or existential content aside, I’m not registering any ideas at all, profound or shallow. Seems like he tried to WOW the billionaire class with stunning objects, but ended up with a cheesy Sunday school craft project.

And to think the grandfather of conceptual art himself, Marcel “The Dud” Duchamp, was rebelling against what he perceived as visual art (especially that of the Impressionists) having become merely retinal.

~ Ends

10 replies on “Damien Hirst’s New Coaster Paintings: A Return to Craft

    1. He gets farm-raised butterflies from the topics, supposedly. In these he just uses the wings, but placed together. Not sure if he gets them live or not.

      Someone made the argument that artist’s pigments nd supplies incorporate various insect and animal parts, and Hirst is just more honest about it. That argument doesn’t hold water, though, because his pieces are not about using insects and animals in art products, hence he’s not being honest about that. His work goes above and beyond incidental use of animal byproducts, and displays the dead creatures AS his art, though in this case in a highly aestheticized way.

      He’s been using butterflies in his work for a long time, and was criticized heavily in 2012 for incorporating butterflies in his art. I’m pretty sure he ripped the idea off of another artist wholesale, as well.

      He seems to be aiming for grandiose spectacle, and believes he’s outsmarted art history by working entirely outside the tradition of visual art, but this show suggests he’s run out of ideas and is repeating himeself.


  1. Interesting. Not sure, actually am sure, I don’t understand all this, but still interesting.

    Another whole line of thought I hadn’t really gotten into – the use of animals & butterflies as actual elements in one’s art – I would think without needing to, though I don’t really know. I was impressed by how big the one on the wall is w/the lady in front of it.

    And interesting piece altogether, with the (for me) incidental historical info re Duchamp & the impressionists; and the observation re repeating oneself & irony of a style of work based on repetition of a pattern.

    My wife says it’s just my confluence confusion as I near my 69th birthday tomorrow, lol! 😊

    Thanks for the food for thought, Eric!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I was impressed by how big the one on the wall is w/the lady in front of it.”

      Me thinks you’ve got your eye on the ball much of the time. Right. They are probably much more impressive in person, and that’s largely due to the scale and probalby the materials (ex., the irridescents of the butterfly wings). That’s one of the ways he WOWs his audience.

      I’ve grown a bit weary of large scale art (especially if its produced by a team of assistants) though. It’s an effective, but a cheap trick, kinda’ like when a rock band turns their amps up fall blast. You can’t have that experience of sound in your own living room where your ears will be ringing for two days afterwards.

      But you are right that the success of the pieces is going to be due to their presense in actual physical proximity. But I still think, “bigger is better art” is an easy device. This goes back to the Abstract Expressionists, and jokes about how Jackson Pollock could have sold his paintings by the square foot.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I never even heard of ousette-Dart until just now. Wow! He’s a really underrated Abstract Expressionist. I’m almost a little angry that somehow he’s slipped completely under my radar, and I have an MFA. Some of his works are really impressive, and I have a little feeling like, “Where’s this artist been all my life” and “I couldn’t have learned a thing or two from him”.

      I can see why he’s too traditional from people with a taste for the radical departure from history, but I like that feel of being a part of histsory, so he works for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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